Judge: Texas City Quelled Latino Voting Power

Judge: Texas city quelled Latino voting power

By Anabelle Garay
The Associated Press, July 15, 2009

Dallas (AP) — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a Dallas suburb illegally diminished the voting power of its growing number of Latino residents because of flaws in its current election system and ordered city officials to modify how they run municipal elections.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge A. Solis prevents the city of Irving from using an at-large system that allows political candidates to receive votes from across a broad geographic area rather than a specific district or precinct.

The ruling came in a voting rights lawsuit against Irving that alleged the at-large election system kept Hispanics from being elected to local government positions because they were outpaced by a majority of white voters voting for other candidates. The suit was filed in November 2007 on behalf of Manuel Benavidez, an Irving resident who has twice run unsuccessfully for the school board.

'My hope is that this case brings progress and hope to our community and to communities all across the country,' Benavidez said after learning of the judge's decision. 'This case is particularly important right now, because of the growing Latino population in the city of Irving.'

The City Council plans to review the judge's order and discuss it during next week's meeting, said Irving spokeswoman Laurie Kunke. In a statement, Irving officials said they will attempt to develop and agree on an election and redistricting plan and a schedule to implement it.

The Dallas suburb had more than 191,000 residents 31 percent of them Hispanic during the 2000 Census. By 2006, the Census Bureau estimated nearly 42 percent of the city's population was Latino and a majority lived in the suburb's southern half.

None of Irving's eight current city council members are Hispanic, and only one Latino candidate has won a seat on the council in the last 20 years.

After the judge's decision, Mayor Herbert Gears said city officials knew change was in the city's future because of the latest demographics. But he said they had not thought that revisions needed to be made now.

The ruling could have broader implications in cities throughout the country where the number of Latinos and other minority residents has surged, especially as the nation prepares for the 2010 Census, said Benavidez's attorney, Bill Brewer.

'We hope it contributes to the conversation when people are determining how inclusive we ought to be as we go through these changing times with the demographics upon us,' Brewer said.

Irving has been the site of protests in recent years. Latino advocates accuse police officers of racial profiling with the intention of arresting suspected illegal immigrants to be deported. Irving police have denied that their participation in a federal program that allows them to check the immigration status of someone in jail has led to racial profiling.